A sudden jolt by the bus wakes up my co-passengers, while the conductor yells Patlikuhl. Peeping through my window, tears roll through my eyes. An end to a horrible night bus journey is in my sights. My stomach has churned throughout the night and is now making loud grunting noise. Aware of this fact, I thank my stars and rest my backpack on my shoulders. As I alight amidst a whiff of fresh air, cobbled stone-path and snow-capped mountains on the Kullu-Manali highway, a song keeps ringing in my ears like a worm. “Yeh ishq haye, baithe bithaye, jannat dikhaye haye,” of the Jab We Met fame.
Through this movie, Jab We Met, I had discovered a long lost Himachal Kingdom and now I had finally made it! “Naggar!” shouted a taxi cab driver as he signaled me to get into the cab. I signaled him back and walked in the opposite direction. After the last night’s horrendous journey, my stomach required some soothing I thought. I therefore, went to a chaiwalla, opposite to the taxi stand and ordered for some hot chai. As I sipped the hot sweet chai, I looked around and found men with the trademark colorful Himachali caps. Not a single tourist in sight. I took a deep breathe. Rather overjoyed, I exchanged weak smiles with the men around me and strolled back to the taxi driver.
As the taxi took narrow turns, up the mountain, the white sand mountains, against the backdrop of overcast skies welcomed me. Everywhere my eyes rolled and I realized that I was indeed in ‘Dev Bhumi’ as Himachal Pradesh is popularly called as. Finally after half an hour’s drive, I reached my cozy cottage. Welcoming me with hot cups of chai, “Naggar”, as my host at Soham’s , a hotel styled stay, informs me “is the ancient capital of Kullu.” Once called as the Kulanthapitha – the end of the habitable world, Naggar sat as tiny settlement, in the shadows of Greater Himalayas and along the banks of the river Beas. It was founded by Raja Visudhpal and continued as a headquarters of the State until the capital was transferred to Sultanpur (Kullu) by Jagat Singh in 1460 A.D.
As I listen to my host, I take a quick 360 view of my surroundings. The impact of globalization and tourism is clear. Broken roads are paving way for new construction. Far away, the snow mountains look dauntingly as the hills near appear naked. The mountains right in the foreground are shedding trees. Civilization has now tilled the mountains to create beautiful terraced rice fields and Apple Orchards. The Orchards are mostly barren, with a few pink bearings here and there. “Spring is on its way,” I am reminded by my host. I take another look at the valley. People look changed, progressive, developed. They are now installing solar energy set-ups, something, perhaps their urban counterparts should think of, I wonder. While this happens, the seclusion of the valley from the rest of the country has ensured that it is able to retain its old world charm.
I pass on my host’s proposal to visit to Naggar’s more popular cousin- Manali. Over the last two decades, Manali and Shimla have become hot spots for tourists flocking to this Himalayan state. I decide to stay away from the crowd and soak myself in the serendipity that Naggar is. The stay at Soham’s has an open-terrace dining area. I sit down to spend my holiday, catching up on my reading, finishing my travel writing, drinking my favorite beverage- tea, while cozying up in my blankets in the lap of the Himalayas.
Access: By road Kullu is 26 km and Manali is 21 km. The airport is at Bhunter (Kullu) 36 km. HPTDC buses ply every day. The nearest bus stop is PatliKhul. Regular Taxis ply from the bus stop to Naggar at a minmal cost of Rs.200/-
Climate: In winter heavy woolens are recommended and in summers the temperature is pleasant and cottons are suggested.
Places of interest:
Naggar Castle: The most prominent tourist attraction of Naggar is the castle. A century old monument, this castle was into a rest house in 1978 and today HPTDC (Himachal Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation) runs it as a heritage hotel. This medieval Castle was built by Raja Sidh Singh of Kullu around 1460 A.D. The hotel overlooks the Kullu Valley and apart from the spectacular view and superb location this has a flavour of authentic western Himalayan architecture. The architecture is purely wooden and stone supported, which makes for a stunning study for those interested.
Roerich Museum: A gallery houses the paintings of the Russian artist Nicholas Roerich.
Himalayan Research institute: A brief uphill walk from Roerich Art gallery takes you to two lovely hidden buildings that now host exhibitions of Himalayan Folk Art. Himalayan research institute was originally set up in Darjeeling but was soon moved to Kullu Valley. This museum has interesting displays right from the stones collected from the region to fossil stones and sculpted stones.
Walk in the woods of Manali: Though Manali is over-crowded with tourists, squealing kids and romantic couples, a walk into the Van-Vihar of Manali is recommended. Away from the huste bustle, this getaway offers deep escape into the woods of Himachal, with the thunderous Beas overflowing by side. For solitude seekers, dreamy writers or for friends looking to escape the crowd, a visit to Van Vihar is recommended.
Temples: For the spiritual, Naggar offers ample opportunities of solace. The hamlet is home to three typical Himalayan architectural temples- Jagatipatt, Tripura Sundari and Gauri Shankar temple.
Treks : The valley is a central point to several short and long trek routes. Some major ones are over the Chanderkhani Pass to Malana village, over the Jalori Pass to Shimla, and over the Pin Parvati Pass to Sarahan. The river Beas offers excellent opportunities for white water rafting.
Food & Shopping: There are a few cafes, hotels that dote the landscape and offer stunning views of the valley with terrace roof dining areas. The food available, varies from Indian to Chinese palette and has something for every foodie. Try the German bakery, near the Naggar Castle, if you have a sweet tooth. There are tiny shopping outlets that sell handicrafts, shawls, caps, woolens. I recommend buying some hand-crafted aromatic soaps, to support the locals and encourage organic movement!